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Drinking Water Safety

The City of Milwaukee water utility, Milwaukee Water Works, provides safe, clean drinking water to homes and businesses throughout the greater Milwaukee area. The City of Milwaukee Health Department works with Milwaukee Water Works to monitor and assure drinking water quality and safety for city of Milwaukee residents.

For more information on Milwaukee water treatment and service, visit the Milwaukee Water Works website.

Drinking Water for Sensitive Populations

Individuals with compromised immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS or other immune system disorders or suppression (organ transplants, chemotherapy, etc.), should consult with their health care provider about consuming drinking water from a variety of sources including tap water.


Water fluoridation has been accepted as a safe, effective, and inexpensive method of preventing tooth decay. Adding fluoride to municipal drinking water has been endorsed by the American Dental Association, the American Medical Association, and the U.S Public Health Service. Per Milwaukee Common Council File No. 120187 adopted on July 24, 2012, we are required to provide an advisory regarding fluoride and young infants.

Water from Milwaukee Water Works is formulated not to exceed a fluoride concentration of 0.7 mg/L. In infants less than 6 months of age the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that parents may consider using water from a source known to be less than 0.7 mg/L at least part of the time when reconstituting baby formula. This suggestion is made due to the possible increased chance of developing a “very mild to mild” case of dental fluorosis, or white spots appearing on the teeth.

Get more information on fluoridation in general and fluoride ingestion by infants less than 6 months old.

Lead Awareness

Lead is not found in Milwaukee’s source water or public water system. However, lead can enter water as the result of the wearing away of materials containing lead in building fixtures, internal plumbing, or in the service line that brings water to your home. When water stands for several hours or more in fixtures or pipes that contain lead, the lead may leach into the water. It is also possible that physical disturbance of the piping may release lead into the water. 

Since 1996, Milwaukee Water Works has safely treated its water ortho-phosphate to reduce the risk of lead leaching from plumbing materials into water. This compound forms a protective coating inside pipes and is considered to be the best practice for the control of lead in drinking water. However, some homes are more at risk for lead in drinking water due to characteristics of the plumbing at the individual residence.

Which homes are most at risk of having lead in drinking water?

  • Homes with lead household plumbing
    A licensed plumber can determine if your household plumbing may be made of lead. Lead pipes are dull gray in color and are soft enough to be easily scratched with a house key.

  • Homes with copper pipe and lead solder installed between 1982 and 1987
    Lead-based solder was banned for use after this time.

  • Homes with faucets or fittings of brass which contain some lead
    Since January 1, 2014, only lead-free fixtures and fittings are allowed to be installed or used to repair drinking water plumbing. Plumbing and fixtures installed before these dates or purchased from sources outside the United States may contain lead.

  • Homes where the service line connecting the water main in the street to the building is made of lead
    Approximately 70,000 properties in the Milwaukee Water Works service area constructed before 1947 are known to have lead service lines. An additional 10,000 constructed between 1948 and 1951 likely have lead service lines. Buildings constructed after 1951 have service lines made of copper.

Health effects of lead

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have determined that lead can pose a significant risk to your health.

The primary source of lead exposure in the Milwaukee community is lead-based paint hazards found in homes. Learn more about the City of Milwaukee Health Department’s work to prevent childhood lead poisoning from lead-based paint hazards.

The greatest risk of lead exposure is to infants, young children, and pregnant women. Studies have linked the effects of lead on the brain to lowered IQ and impaired school performance in children, increased behavior problems and juvenile delinquency, and increased childhood health problems such as speech and language delays, hearing problems, kidney damage, and more. Effects of lead poisoning can be life-long.

No safe blood lead level in children has been identified. Lead exposure often occurs with no obvious symptoms. The City of Milwaukee Health Department advises parents and health care providers to follow the “3 before 3” guidance by testing children for elevated blood lead levels three times before the age of 3.

According to the CDC, most studies show that exposure to lead-contaminated water alone, even exposure to water with a lead content close to the EPA action level of 15 parts per billion, would not be likely to elevate blood lead levels in most adults. However, the risk will vary depending on the individual, circumstances, and amount of water consumed. For example, infants who drink formula prepared with lead-contaminated water may be at a higher risk because of the volume of water they consume relative to their body size. An infant who consumes mostly formula can receive as much as 40 to 60 percent of their exposure to lead from drinking water.

Families who may live in a high-risk home for lead in drinking water, are advised to follow the steps below to reduce risk of exposure.

Easy steps to reduce the risk of lead in your drinking water

There are several easy things you can do to reduce your exposure to lead in drinking water. These actions are particularly important if pregnant or breastfeeding women, or children under the age of 6, live in your home.  

  1. Flush your plumbing. Before using tap water for drinking or cooking, flush your plumbing by running the kitchen faucet (or any other tap you take drinking or cooking water from) on cold for a minimum of three minutes (or longer if necessary) until the water is noticeably colder. This is especially important if your water has been sitting in your pipes for more than six hours. To conserve water, you can use this excess for watering household plants or outdoor plants.

  2. Showering, doing laundry and flushing the toilet all help clear water from the pipes. Bathing, showering, and doing laundry in water from lead services lines or lead plumbing is safe.

  3. Use only cold water for cooking and drinking. Water from the hot water tap can dissolve more lead quicker than cold water. Boiling water will not reduce the amount of lead in your drinking or cooking water. You can also consider purchasing bottled water for drinking and cooking from a known lead-free source.  You may also want to consider filling a clean container(s) with water from the flushed tap, and reserving this water for drinking, cooking, or other consumption.

  4. Inspect your faucet aerator. The aerator on the end of your faucet is a screen that can catch debris, including particles of lead. It is recommended to periodically remove the aerator and rinse out any debris.

  5. Purchase a home filtration system. Home drinking water filtration systems or water filtering pitchers can reduce or eliminate lead. Be sure to look for products certified by NSF/ANSI under Standard 53 for removal of lead and follow any manufacturer’s guidelines on installation and maintenance of the product. Find a list of products at or download information hereAs of May 2015, several approved filters are available in the Milwaukee area at Target, Walmart, Home Depot, and Bed,Bath & Beyond locations.

  6. Replace your lead service line or interior plumbing. A licensed plumber will be able to determine if your home’s interior plumbing and fixtures and/or service line are made of lead. Replacement must be done by a licensed plumber under contract from the homeowner.

In addition, any households with residents or visitors that include children under the age of 6, pregnant and breastfeeding women should also:

  • Only consume bottled water from a known lead-free source or filtered tap water. Use the bottled water to make formula, concentrated juices, and for cooking and drinking if a NSF/ANSI Standard 53 certified water filtration device is not being used.

  • Have their blood lead level tested. The City of Milwaukee Health Department advises parents and health care providers to follow the “3 before 3” guidance by testing children for elevated blood lead levels three times before the age of 3. Consult your health care provider or the City of Milwaukee Health Department for further information.

More tips and information on drinking water safety and lead: